Area Where Shell Blast Killed 2 Boys : 2nd Tierrasanta Munitions Sweep Slated

Times Staff Writer

Officials Tuesday announced a second round of sweeps to detect old munitions in a Tierrasanta area where two children were killed a year and a half ago when an anti-tank shell they were playing with exploded. The area was the site of a World War II military firing range.

Under the plan negotiated by Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego) and the Defense Department, Navy explosive ordnance teams will conduct visual searches in Tierrasanta canyons for three months beginning in mid-July.

“This is excellent news for the residents of Tierrasanta,” Lowery said. “We hope the dangers of unexploded ordnance will now be significantly reduced.”

The new sweep falls short of the $4.5-million long-range program recommended in a California National Guard study after the December, 1983, explosion.


According to Lowery’s office, the July sweeps will be paid for out of a $2-million Environmental Restoration Fund, which is used primarily to clean up toxic wastes.

But Capt. Peter Litrenta said the Navy has not yet decided how much money will be spent or what kind of detection equipment, if any, will be used.

The Navy conducted a similar sweep beginning in January, 1984, after the deaths of Matthew Paul Smith and Corey Alden Peake, both 8. The anti-tank shell the boys had found in a canyon near their home exploded when they hit it against a rock.

During that sweep, which lasted three months, searchers uncovered 202 pieces of ordnance, about 25% of it still explosive.


Since then, dozens of residents have called the San Diego Fire Department to pick up various pieces of ammunition, including 81mm mortar rounds, signal flares, a 75mm projectile, .50-caliber armor-piercing rounds and a 25-pound practice bomb.

July’s search will concentrate on areas that were not covered during last year’s sweeps.

Tierrasanta, a 2,600-acre community, was built on part of Camp Elliott, a 43-square-mile Marine Corps training base and artillery range during World War II. The land was swept for shells in 1964 and again nine years later, during Tierrasanta’s early development.

Today, military and fire department officials continue to warn residents that highly explosive shells are still buried in the area.


Dan Greenblat, Lowery’s administrative aide, said, “There is simply no way to insure the area will be 100% cleansed. We have every expectation with the cooperation of the Department of Defense that more funding will be forthcoming.”

One Tierrasanta community activist who attended Tuesday’s press conference hailed the new effort.

“Kids are going to play in the canyons,” said Norma McNerney. “You can’t keep them out. They’re kids. We have to make (the canyons) as safe as possible.”